100 YEARS OF ST ANDREWS - PART ONE
Birmingham City's home match against QPR today marks the 100th anniversay of their St Andrews stadium. Steve Beauchampé marks the centenary with a look back at the club's previous grounds.
Small Heath Alliance, as Birmingham City were originally known, played their first games on a patch of waste ground in Arthur Street, Bordesley Green (just a few hundred yards from the club's current ground, St. Andrews) during 1875-76.
A brief spell in Ladypool Road, Sparkbrook (the club's first enclosed ground, with a spectator capacity of around 3,000) followed until, in 1877, already growing in stature, the club relocated to a rented field in Muntz Street, near the junction with Coventry Road, Small Heath, where capacity was initially around 10,000.
Although the ground was always known as Coventry Road, in later years it was referred to as Muntz Street, possibly to avoid confusion with the St. Andrews ground, also adjoining Coventry Road.
Muntz Street enjoyed an almost rural setting at the edge of the town, with open fields stretching to the north and east. During their 29-year tenure, The Heathens established themselves as second only to Aston Villa within the Birmingham football scene, but the ground's spartan facilities and notoriously sloping, bumpy and brick-strewn playing surface (somewhat incongruously nicknamed the ‘Celery Trenches') meant relocation to another site was imperative if Birmingham Football Club (as they became known in March 1905) were to prosper.
Few pictures of Muntz Street exist; there were four sides of ash terracing, with a wooden hut and probably a small covered seated stand on the Coventry Road aspect of the ground.
From 1897 however, Muntz Street's key feature was David Arkell's ornate grandstand (complete with central roof gable, clock and flagpoles) imported from Villa for £90 when the Aston club moved from Wellington Road, Perry Barr, though used by Blues as solely a terrace cover.
In 1892, The Heathens had become founder members of the Football League Second Division and for the next fourteen years enjoyed a yo-yo existence between Division's One and Two.
Rumours that the club was seeking a better ground began circulating around 1904/5. Muntz Street's inadequacies were all too evident to the club's directors and supporters, and the landlord refused to permit any major extensions.
The rental, initially £5 per annum, had risen to £300 and renewal of the lease was causing further problems. The 1904/5 season ended in another promotion to the First Division, but it was the clash with Aston Villa in February 1905 which highlighted Muntz Street's limitations and precipitated the search for a new base, when several thousand supporters in a crowd estimated at up to 32,000 climbed over walls or forced their way in when an entrance was broken down.
Establishment in the top flight generated the size of regular crowds that Muntz Street could no longer accommodate and soon after the club's promotion news was made public that a site further west along Coventry Road near St Andrew's Church and the newly opened Green Lane Public Baths had been found.
Though some supporters worried that a move towards the centre of Birmingham would result in a loss of local identity, there was a prevailing view that it was time to move on, that after years of frugal existence the club needed to show bold ambition, to capitalise on their newly won status as members of the First Division.
Birmingham's final game at Muntz Street, on December 22nd 1906 resulted in a 3-1 victory over Bury in front of around 10.000 spectators. Meanwhile, the club closed their registered offices at Midland Chambers on Corporation Street and players and administrators moved to the new, as yet unnamed ground, which opened on Boxing Day 1906.
Today, no trace or reminder of Birmingham's once substantial Muntz Street football ground remains, not even a plaque, the land covered by a school and houses in Swanage Street and Somerville Road.
Steve Beauchampe is the author (with Simon Inglis) of the wonderful "Played In Birmingham", a history of sports grounds in the city - available now at all good local bookshops.
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